As parents, we have an innate desire to protect our children and shield them from anything unpleasant. We’d rather they didn’t have to hear about the latest school shooting, predictions of food shortages, threats of nuclear war, or what deadly disease is starting to spread. But the truth is, we are living in perilous times. The world’s troubles seem to be mounting daily.
To compound matters, this is the digital age. When something horrific happens anywhere in the world, the media will bombard us with all of the gory details. Kids and adults alike are exposed to a steady stream of often sensational news reports 24/7. It’s nearly impossible to not be exposed to these stories.
This kind of intense news coverage can leave adults feeling grieved, depressed, anxious and overwhelmed. But it’s even harder on kids.
“Children can become very traumatized by the news,” says Scott Poland, Ed.D., a professor of psychology at Nova Southeastern University and an expert on crisis situations. “They may not be able to put things in perspective. They may worry about their own safety, even if a tragedy occurred far away. If what’s on the news is just speculation about something bad that might happen, they don’t always know that’s just conjecture.”
He advises parents to open up a dialogue with their children whenever a new tragedy breaks in the media: “Don’t wait for your kids to come to you about their concerns, or assume they aren’t interested in the topic or don’t know what happened. They’re going to know about it, and their fears won’t go away by simply ignoring the reality of the situation.”
You need to check in with your children so you can clear up any misconceptions or misinformation they may have, and hopefully put their anxieties to rest. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation; even just chatting for a few minutes can help them feel calmer and more secure.
It can be hard to know exactly what you should tell your kids, but even saying something less than perfect is better than not addressing the topic at all. The following suggestions may help:
1. Get control of your own emotions
Before talking with your children, make sure you are calm. “Your kids will look to you for cues about how to react to tragic events,” Dr. Poland says. “If you seem overly upset or hysterical, they will absorb those emotions and respond the same way.” It’s okay if your kids see you sad or crying, he adds, as long as you are able to control your emotions.
If your children are with you when you first learn about a troubling event, you may feel distraught, but you still need to try to maintain composure. You won’t be able to help them if you completely fall apart.
2. Draw out their concerns
Open the conversation by asking your children some questions to find out what they’ve heard about the incident and how they feel about it. You could say something like, “You’ve probably heard the sad news for today. What are other young people you know saying about what happened?” If you and your kids are watching the news together, you could ask, “How do you feel about this?”
Allow your children to share their perspectives and concerns, and listen carefully to what they say. Be sure to ask them if they have any questions. This will help you know what may be troubling them so you can better address their fears.
3. Provide age-appropriate details
Respond to your kids’ questions openly and truthfully, with their age and maturity level in mind. “You don’t want to overwhelm children with too many details or information they can’t handle developmentally,” cautions Dr. Poland. Teens may want to get into why something happened and the potential ramifications for the community or nation.
Try to correct any of your kids’ perceptions that are untrue or overblown, and fill in any gaps in information. Often once they know the facts, they’ll feel better. You do need to educate yourself in advance about the topic so you can provide accurate information. If you don’t know how to answer some questions, or if the situation seems complicated and you’re still trying to understand what happened, admit it. Most kids will appreciate the honesty.
4. Explain that the “news” isn’t always “truth”
Teens, in particular, typically get most of their “news” from social media feeds, which tend to disseminate a lot of half-truths, unsubstantiated claims, exaggerated views and opinions-presented-as-facts. Much of what kids see is contradictory or confusing, adding to their angst about the topic. The mainstream media isn’t any better, often covering only the most frightening developments or what details promote a particular narrative.
None of this is surprising, as Satan certainly influences what’s in the media. Ephesians 2:2 refers to him as the “prince of the power of the air.” In Revelation 12:9, he is described as the one “who deceives the whole world.” Satan will do anything he can to keep humanity confused and in fear.
Address this with your kids. Tell them we shouldn’t believe everything that’s presented in the media. Explain that anyone can publish “information” online in a blog or social media post, even if it isn’t well-researched or factual. Point out that the agenda of many media outlets has shifted from objectively informing the public to generating fear, propagandizing politics and creating their own “truths.” This may prevent kids from falling prey to manipulation, and help them stay grounded in reality.
5. Encourage them to look to God for protection
More than anything, your kids want reassurance that they’re safe. Assure them that God is aware of the dangers we face today and that He promises to protect us if we seek Him.
Says Brad, father of two preteens: “My kids know I’ll do whatever I can to keep them safe. They know we have policemen and firefighters in the community. But there’s only so much human beings can do. I always remind my kids that ultimately God is the only one we can truly rely on to protect us.”
The Bible is filled with God’s promises of protection. Read some of these verses to your children and talk about what they mean. Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 1:9, Psalm 46 and 91, Isaiah 41:10, and 2 Thessalonians 3:3 are good passages to start with.
During your conversation, suggest to your kids that they pray with you. Ask God to keep your family safe and to send comfort and help to those affected by the crisis. This reinforces the lesson that God is our protector and that He wants us to reach out to Him.
6. Point them to God’s “big picture”
The most important information to relay to your kids is that Jesus Christ will return to establish the Kingdom of God and put an end to the trauma and suffering we’re seeing in the world today. Even young children can grasp that basic concept and be encouraged by it.
Depending on your child’s age and maturity level, you could do what Mike, father of three teens, does: “I try to talk with my kids whenever there’s a big news story that could relate to Bible prophecy, and try to help them understand why these things are happening and what is prophesied to occur before Christ’s return. I don’t want them to be alarmed when they learn about all the scary things going on.”
The Bible provides us with the answers that are missing from most news programs—why we see so much pain and destruction in the world and how these problems will be solved. That is vital information to convey to our kids. God’s “big picture” should be in the forefront of their minds—and ours too. That is the only way to cultivate a truly peaceful, positive and hopeful outlook.